Stem cells get specific

Scientists at New York Stem Cell Foundation make advance in development of patient-specific stem cells

Amy Swinderman
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NEW YORK—Having spent the better part of the last decadeblazing trails in the stem cell research arena, a Manhattan-based consortium ofscientists has made an important advance in the development of patient-specificstem cells, a breakthrough hailed as one that will significantly impact the waysuch research is conducted in many diseases areas with unmet therapeutic needs.
"This is an exciting time," says Stephen Chang, vicepresident of research and development at the New York Stem Cell Foundation(NYSCF). "We have made the first step in making true patient-specific stemcells, as well as understanding how to make better induced pluripotent stem(iPS) cells." 
That step is illustrated in a study published Oct. 5 in Nature, in which the NYSCF scientistsdescribe how they derived human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) from individualpatients by adding the nuclei of adult skin cells from patients with type 1diabetes to unfertilized donor oocytes. 
"For the first time, we have demonstrated that human oocyteshave the ability to reprogram a somatic cell to a pluripotent state," Changexplains.
The finding is an important step toward generating stemcells for disease modeling and drug discovery, and although further researchmust be done, the NYSCF team expects the achievement to lead to the ability toproduce patient-specific hESCs that can be used therapeutically to treatdiseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other debilitatingdiseases.
The study was funded solely with private funding and adheredto ethical guidelines adopted by the American Society for Reproductive Medicineand the International Society for Stem Cell Research, as well as protocolsreviewed and approved by the institutional review board and stem cellcommittees of Columbia University.
Launched in 2006, the NYSCF was founded by leadingresearchers "who felt that stem cell research was not being optimized oradvocated for." At the time, federal funding for human embryonic stem cellresearch (hESC) was restricted by President George W. Bush's executive order,and the ensuing "frustration" in the research community "led to a feeling thatthe possibilities of stem cell research was not being explored," says Chang."This led to a strategic plan to train the next generationof young researchers—investigators, post-doc students and assistantprofessors," he says.
To date, the NYSCF Fellowship Program has created acommunity of more than 23 of the brightest researchers in the field, whoseprojects range from growing bone tissue to developing ways to produce neuronsfor therapeutic treatment of Parkinson's disease. In addition to an annualstipend, each NYSCF fellow has access to NYSCF's laboratory and presents at theorganization's annual conference.
In addition, the NYSCF's laboratory gives scientists fromacross the country an opportunity to develop embryonic stem cells, inducedpluriportent stem cells (iPS) and cells by somatic cell nuclear transfer. Thelab's collaborators work on research on diseases such as heart disease,diabetes, ALS, schizophrenia, cardiac disease, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer'sdisease, SMA, cancer, retinopathies and spinal cord injury.
"The types of cell lines don't matter to us—we're agnosticto this," Chang notes. "We work with all of the lines and have no restrictions.We believe that research in this field is so early that research should becompletely open until we know for certain that a particular type of stem cellis going to be the gold standard."

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